When Barack Obama was an insurgent candidate for President against Hillary Clinton, he relied heavily on influencer endorsements to bolster his credibility. One of those endorsements came from Liberal Lion Ted Kennedy, whose opinion mattered enormously to older voters who tended to prefer Clinton.
But not everyone who supported Obama was a positive influence for the campaign. Former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers hosted a fundraiser for the future president, and served on boards with him. Their relationship became an anchor around the campaign’s neck.
Having the right influencers is key to building trust with target audiences. And having the wrong ones can be very, very costly.
Picking your influencers
Most companies and nonprofits aren’t going to get an A-list celebrity to endorse their product or service. In fact, such an endorsement would require an enormous investment of time, money and other resources…and likely bring in minimal new business.
You’re far better off finding influencers who validate your claims with their own words, add authority to what you say, and provide greater exposure to your niche target audiences.
There are a number of characteristics which good spokespeople possess:
- Credibility. People with relevant degrees, life experiences, and expertise bring credibility to your message. Doctors and scientific researchers have been used as credible spokespeople on all sides of the COVID-19 vaccine, mask, and lockdown debates.
- Compelling narrative. Audiences are emotional, so they gravitate to compelling stories and calls for emotional connection over data. Everyone will celebrate the immigrant who came here poor but has achieved The American Dream, and they will sympathize with the person going bankrupt due to medical debt.
- Influential. Influencers don’t have to be household names; but they must be known in the households you are trying to reach. A community leader’s presence at your ribbon-cutting will likely mean more than a famous person’s Tweet; but if you want to have an impact nationally, you’ll need an influencer appropriate to the stage.
The wrong influencer can damage trust
You can’t always control who supports you and your message. What you can and must control is who you present as the face of your message.
Ted Kennedy was a success for the Obama insurgency. Bill Ayers was an anchor. The same can be true if you elevate a customer who goes off-message – imagine instead of saying, “You did a great job!” the customer says, “You stole my money!” or goes off on UFO conspiracy rants.
The Biden administration ran into this problem with its student loan forgiveness campaign. Insider, which reaches millions of people each month, supports this agenda and regularly runs stories with a pro-forgiveness narrative. They recently featured a teacher who has over $300,000 in student debt as a sympathetic story…but their story missed the mark because Cheryl’s large student loan debt is 11 times bigger than that held by the average college graduate.
Instead of being a validating supporter of student loan forgiveness, Cheryl came across as irresponsible. Her story isn’t really about college costs, interest gained on student loans, or even modest teacher incomes. It seems to be more about poor decision-making.
Pick only the best influencers
The old cliche is that it takes years to build a reputation, and only a moment to lose it. This is especially true when you leverage someone else’s influence for your benefit. We see it in sales every day; you must have good salespeople in the field, or your entire operation is crippled.
Influencers can help your company soar, or cause it to crash. Pick carefully.